UPDATED (9 a.m., Wednesday) — Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. wants to listen to residents’ opinions on Tradepoint Atlantic’s request for roughly $78 million in public financing for its Sparrows Point overhaul.
Employees of the developer, according to a notice from the executive’s staff, are slated to discuss the proposition during the Essex Middle River Civic Council meeting scheduled for 7 p.m., Wednesday, at Victory Villa Community Center. Olszewski is expected to attend in order to discuss the issue with residents.
“The conversation will take place as part of a regularly scheduled meeting … and is the first opportunity for members of the community to talk with Tradepoint Atlantic representatives about specific details of the proposal,” according to the county’s announcement.
Tradepoint Atlantic applied for financing covering public infrastructure work at the eponymous development this fall. Work is already underway transforming 3,250 acres of the abandoned steelmaking site into the nation’s largest multimodal transportation hub. Tenants at the project currently include Under Armour, FedEx and Amazon.
Completing the $2 billion redevelopment, and the planned 15 million square feet of vertical construction, is projected to take 20 years. If Tradepoint Atlantic can lure manufacturers to the site, according to a 2016 Sage Policy Group study, the venture may create 17,000 jobs, and contribute $2.9 billion to the regional economy.
The developer initially asked the county to grant $15o million in tax increment financing that essentially advances money for public road, sewer, and water system improvements. Tax increment financing, commonly referred to as TIF, requires issuing public debt to pay for infrastructure upgrades. If the financing tool works as intended, a portion of property taxes stemming from new building supported by improved roads and sewers eventually covers that debt.
Former Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler unveiled a different financing package for the project in November. The new financing proposal, according to The Baltimore Sun, requires Tradepoint Atlantic to pay for the infrastructure upfront. Baltimore County would reimburse the developer for expenses up to $44 million for sewer improvements, and $34 million for road work.
The alternative financing proposal emerged from negotiations with Tradepoint Atlantic after county officials became uncomfortable with forgoing tax revenues. Mohler told The Baltimore Sun’s Pamela Wood he was uncomfortable that the tax increment financing required the county to sacrifice tax revenues for 30 years.
Tradepoint Atlantic has not taken financing approval for granted. It formed a coalition including businesses, community groups, and labor unions called Revitalize Sparrows Point to lobby for the funding. Former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis serves as the group’s chairman. Well-known public relations firm KOFA Public Affairs has also been hired as a consultant to Revitalize Sparrows Point.
Redeveloping Sparrows Point was a top priority for former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died in May. The application for public financing, however, wasn’t submitted until this fall. Mohler, who was appointed to fulfill Kamenetz’s final months in office, initially said he wanted to pursue approving a package. But county officials opted to hold off on a decision regarding financing for Tradepoint Atlantic until a new executive and council took office following the November elections.
The meeting on Wednesday discussing financing arrives only two days after Olszewski took office. Olszewski won the general election by a comfortable margin over Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, a Republican, in a county Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, won handily last month.
Olszewski narrowly secured the Democratic Party’s nomination in a three-way race including state Sen. Jim Brochin, and former Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond. Brochin, who refused campaign contributions from developers, regularly used the influence of real estate investors in county government as a campaign issue. Those barbs, however, were primarily aimed at Almond. Olszewski, who ran to the left of his primary opponents, won his party’s nomination over Brochin by nine votes.
Olszewski, who was born, raised and lives in the Dundalk community adjacent to Tradepoint Atlantic, has deep ties to the communities surrounding Sparrows Point. He previously served the neighborhoods in the House of Delegates. His father, John A. Olszewski Sr., represented the area on the Baltimore County Council for four terms before leaving office in 2014.
The perception of those communities in the Baltimore region are largely informed by their blue-collar heritage. Various steel mills at Sparrows Point served as major employers of residents in East Baltimore and eastern Baltimore County for more than a century. But In the last 40 years, as steel manufacturing in the U.S. declined, those neighborhoods have struggled with unemployment and lackluster economic development.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Baltimore County was still considering using a development tool called tax increment financing to pay for infrastructure work at Tradepoint Atlantic. The county unveiled an alternative financing package in November.